Monday, March 5, 2012

15 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Pine

Amy Pine
YA Dystopian

I suck at flirting. At seventeen, I’ve never had a boyfriend, though it’s not for lack of trying. My best friend, Summer, complains, “Such a waste, Livvy. You’re gorgeous, but when you open your mouth—total disaster!” I don’t know about gorgeous. I’m definitely a Moore—my father’s dark, wavy hair and deep brown eyes, my mother’s wintry skin. I’ve never thought about my looks other than taming my wild mane into a pony tail. The disaster part, however, is true.

Here’s the thing—I have no filter. I can’t hide what I’m thinking, and that doesn’t bode well on the dating front. Take Will Connelly. He’s heart-breakingly cute and ridiculously smart. When he asked me out for coffee, I said yes without hesitation. Conversation went well until I asked him what his sanctioned artistic release activity was. His answer? Dressing up his Pomeranian in a tankini and photographing it on a lounge chair by his pool. Before I had time to censor myself, I nearly did a spit take and blurted, “You’re kidding, right?” He wasn’t. I apologized, but the damage was done. There were no more dates with Will, or pretty much anyone, after that. Now everyone fears I’m doomed for spinsterhood.

“If you don’t get married within three years of graduation, you’ll end up single for life.” This is hyperbole, but Summer has a point. It’s tradition, sort of. We go from school straight to the Administration (our territory’s central government), and that’s where we are, for life. The social pool multiplies as graduates from the ten Academies enter, but that’s it, since we don’t marry outside of the Administration. As long as I’ve lived, the same people have lived in this sector of the American Northwest Territory (or ANT, as Summer and I call it). After the Administration, there’s no one new to meet.

That’s why today is strange. A new student is entering our Academy. Of 115 people in my graduating class, I’ve gone to school with the same 114 for twelve years. No one new ever comes into the mix. And because this new person is male, he is the only topic of conversation for Summer on our way to school.

“Livvy, a new guy! We’ve been with the same tired group of boys since we were five…”
“Umm, Summer? You have a boyfriend!” It’s hard to keep track. Who can blame her? She is gorgeous. Hair—blond, straight. Skin—flawless honey. Her parents ran the risk of making her a cliché, but she owns it—the look, the name, all of it.
“Livvy, please. Jackson’s a biologist; I’m a physicist. It was doomed from the start. FOCUS on what’s really important here!”
I cannot focus because the he she is speaking of stands right there, across the street—the first unfamiliar face I’ve seen since childhood. And then I throw up.

“Livvy, what the flux?”
Oh how I never tire of Summer’s work-arounds for the no profanities ordinance.
“Ummm... What just happened?” I ask, with marked confusion.
“Ummm…you just hurled into the bushes.”
“No one else saw, did they?”
“I don’t think so. Here, take a mint. I’m sure you need it.”
“Thanks,” I say, but out of the corner of my eye I see him, looking right at me.

How Summer did not notice him across the street is beyond me, but she cannot miss him walking into our independent sciences class. How can anyone? He’s the first new person we’ve seen in twelve years. His entrance brings immediate silence, all eyes on him. It isn’t just his newness. The calm he emanates hides something, and he looks like no other guy I know. His hair is the darkest black I’ve ever seen, cropped close to his head. The subtle stubble on his jaw indicates he has not shaven in a couple of days (completely against code), and his hazel eyes are fixed in my direction as our instructor, Mr. Pierce, introduces him. That’s when I realize I’m staring.

“Students, I know this is unorthodox, but we have a new addition to the Academy. This is Wes. He’ll be with us through graduation.”
Wes gives us all a slight, closed mouth grin and tucks his hands into his front pockets. His forearm peeks out from his cuff, and I see what looks like writing on the underside. He must notice too because he instinctively pulls his sleeve back to his wrist.

“Wes, why don’t you have a seat? Since this is an independent study class, you can work on whatever it is you want to work on. The rest of you can do the same. Tomorrow you introduce your topics of study with an abbreviated speech. Final project in four weeks.”

All eyes in the class follow as Mr. Pierce leads Wes to the empty table in the back of the room. I look over in Summer’s direction and see her mouth one word—tattoo.

I don’t see Summer again until lunch. I barely utter, “Hey…” before she jumps into the seat across from me. “Livvy, that boy has a tattoo!”
“Nobody has tattoos anymore,” I say. “They aren’t allowed within the territory.”
“Livvy, I know the rules, but he’s obviously not from here. And he looks like no guy I’ve ever seen before. I mean, every boy I’ve ever met looks like every boy I’ve ever met.”

This is true. It’s not just the uniform. There’s also a certain uniformity to all the guys in our class. It couldn’t have always been like this, but as we get closer to starting our lives in the Administration, the males are beginning to look more the part.

“Yeah, I guess he does look different, but I…”
“And he’s kind of skinny, too,” she interrupts. “O.k. Not so much skinny but less bulky, you know? Not in a bad way, though. I like a change from the thick manufactured muscle of the male student body.”

“Just a reminder that some of that manufactured muscle is your current boyfriend and every other guy who has auditioned for the role of husband. And it’s not like they have a choice. All male students are required to take a military fitness class as part of the curriculum.”
“Whatever,” she replies. “We both know I’m not going to marry anyone from here.”
“Oh, but you’re going to marry the illegally tattooed stranger?” The same illegally tattooed stranger I’m still thinking about as I try to eat. Why? No time for self-analysis because Summer slaps my sandwich out of my hand before I can take a bite. “Seriously?” I ask.
“Shhh! He just sat down at the table behind you!”
I try to be subtle, just to catch a glimpse, but my glimpse turns into a full-on face-to-face stare. Again, that same closed mouth grin. I smile awkwardly and turn back around.
“Ok, what the flux was that?” Summer demands.
“I have no clue. One thing’s for sure, though. His eyes are definitely hazel, and I am not…
“Subtle?” she fills in. “No kidding. And what was with that smile?”

“I don’t know,” I defend, but what I should say is, “Well, you develop an instant chemistry with someone when they watch you puke. We’re bonded for life now.” But I don’t . I don’t have to because I am saved by the bell. I won’t see Summer again until after school. I hope that by then she’ll forget the familiarity in that smile.
She does. I don’t.


  1. I love dystopians, so I'm really excited about this. I like the concept. I only think that maybe the explanation of the society comes a little too quickly. (I realized this about my own first five pages as well.) When I think about dystopians - Divergent, for example - the explanation of society doesn't usually come immediately, within the first few pages. The beginning usually starts in scene, with a character and conflict and hints about the society, rather than complete explanations. This might be more intriguing, and make the reader curious enough to keep reading.

    I think that's my main critique for you: the beginning doesn't start with a scene. It gives background information and tells more than shows. After the background info, the story starts to work better because we're in scene. I suggest maybe starting with the scene and making the reader curious about why it's so strange that there's a new student in class.

    (One last thing: it was a little surprising and hard to believe that the MC would just throw up like she did.)

    1. Thank you so much, Kheryn! I totally agree with you. I don't want to have a big info dump, so this is my challenge. I appreciate your comments!

  2. You know, my first thought was that this was going to be Contemporary...what with the voice and the boyfriend stuff up front. For me, I'd like a hint of what the story's about in the first sentence. "I suck at flirting, but the Administration keeps assigning me on dates anyway." or whatever.

    I also feel like you have these physical descriptions first before I'm interested in the character. I'd like to see her do something ("save a cat") before I care about her looks. Otherwise I might think your girl is a little shallow.

    My interest began with "A new student is entering our Academy..." Obviously that's not a brilliant first line, but that's where I was interested in what comes after.

    Love the characterisation in this part:
    “Livvy, what the flux?”
    Oh how I never tire of Summer’s work-arounds for the no profanities ordinance."

    But don't overdo it. It stands out big time so use sparingly. Like once every ten chapters. :)

    I love the energy in your characters, there's some funny stuff. Okay, puking all of a sudden doesn't seem realistic, but if you worked on things some more then you could make it work. It's fiction. Anything goes. Maybe she has an extremely sensitive gag reflex along with her terrible penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

    1. Ooh, Sarah, I like your suggestion about the first line. I like it a lot! Exposition is something I'm working on. With only five pages, I'm afraid I'm either not giving enough information or giving too much. Your comments are super helpful! Thank you!

  3. I think you have a great voice for your MC. I'd read on.

    However, I also agree with the ladies above. There is a huge info dump on the first page. The hardest part about first person POV is keeping the narration to what the character is thinking. She has lived in this society her entire life, she wouldn't think about things like the central government is called the Administration. She'd take it for granted that everybody she knows, knows this.

    I think once you've weeded out all the info that doesn't fit, you'll find the story flows much better.

    Also - the fact that the boy is new only needs to be mentioned once. And - I liked the vomiting part - but also expected it to be a regular occurrence, as in her throwing up every time she sees him. Like a physical reaction to his presence. Just a thought.

    Good luck.

    1. The vomiting does happen again later. I'm glad you like it. Ha ha. I'm laughing writing this but am happy you like the vomiting because it can be a turn-off. I want this one guy to be the only person who has ever shaken her nerves like this. And yes, I'm with everyone on the info dump. For sure. I am working on it! Thank you so much!

  4. Hi Amy,

    I think you have a great contemporary voice going here, which became a little bit of a problem for me when I realized this was a distopian. It seems too close to a regular contemp voice, and I do agree that you need to start with more scene and less story. I'm not sure which information you need here in the first five pages, because I'm not sure precisely where you are going. I assume it is going to be that she falls in love with the illegally tattooed guy. I assume that he could have hidden that from the powers that be that admitted him into the school, but his unshaven jaw seems like it would result in consequences before such a strict society would allow him to mix with the other students. So. I am assuming he has a reason for being there, which is intriguing, but it is only going to be intriguing really if your heroine is asking these questions. Does that make sense? She notices, but she doesn't go to the next logical step. Can you take us there? And could you perhaps give us a better sense of what the other options besides Administration might be? As is, there's a sense of expectation, but no consequence. Yet there is military fitness, which suggests opposition. You've got a nice setup with the best-friend as the foil, but it all seems a little familiar, too. So really bring it with the differences. Distopians need to be really unique and special, and I think you have the elements here, but you need to reveal them a little sooner and a little more deeply.

    Looking forward to seeing where you're taking this!


    1. Thank you so much, Martina. I really appreciate the feedback. This is all so helpful. I'm so new at this and am so grateful to get feedback from people other than friends and family. It's not that I don't trust them, but you know, they all know and like me, so they may be a little quicker to compliment! But this is great. I have much editing to do but am looking forward to doing it!

  5. You might want to reconsider first person perspective. Your POV seems to shift. For example, in the first paragraph, your character describes herself, with terms like"wintery skin," then states she doesn't think about her appearance. Those thoughts are at odds. It seems like you want to give us info as though in 3rd person omniscient, so maybe try a 1 page rewrite that way. It might add more mystery and be more consistent with dystopian v/s contemporary.

    I also love your opening line, but agree it might need to revise to something that reflects dystopian themes.

  6. You might want to reconsider first person perspective. Your POV seems to shift. For example, in the first paragraph, your character describes herself, with terms like"wintery skin," then states she doesn't think about her appearance. Those thoughts are at odds. It seems like you want to give us info as though in 3rd person omniscient, so maybe try a 1 page rewrite that way. It might add more mystery and be more consistent with dystopian v/s contemporary.

    I also love your opening line, but agree it might need to revise to something that reflects dystopian themes.

    1. Thank you, Melanie! I completely see what you mean about the perspective. I will play around with that.

  7. Everything Kheryn said. I kind of think that people don't tend to think of the society they live in when they're living in it, at least not the way your MC does. It really kind of feels like she's explaining things for the reader's sake, and so it feels kind of out-of-story.

    I don't feel like there's much conflict here. I mean, there's definite potential. As Martina mentioned, this new boy and his lack-of-protocol-shaving and illegal tattoo seem like the RIGHT STUFF to create conflict. But your MC doesn't make these things conflicts, so it's hard for me to know what's actually important. Is the fact that he's not buff and has hazel eyes more important than his stubble and tattoo?

    I feel like your first few pages would maybe be stronger if you gave us a real glimpse of how the Administration controls their life at the Academy. Maybe there's a regular check-up for tattoos, stubble, ANYTHING that could break code, and somehow although he breaks most of those rules, he's exempt. Something that will really make us as readers feel how strict this society is and, at the same time, show us how important it is that this new boy is and CAN break the rules.

    1. These are all fabulous suggestions. Thank you, Jessica. I've got a lot of work to do, but I'm looking forward to it! This is such a great opportunity for feedback!

  8. I haven't read dystopian novels, therefore I have no idea about the rules. :)

    I like the friendship between Summer and Livvy plus she does have a strong voice.

    “Livvy, what the flux?”
    Oh how I never tire of Summer’s work-arounds for the no profanities ordinance.

    This made me smile.

    “Ummm... What just happened?” I ask, with marked confusion.(I was abit confused here. Did she like lose consciousness after throwing up. She seems not to remember she puked.)

    I wondered why she puked as well, if she gets that way when she is nervous.

    I enjoyed reading your excerpt, and the fact that there's an illegally tattoed boy in a world where thats prohibited.

    1. Thank you, Cecelia. I like getting perspectives from both those who have read dystopian and those who have not, so this is great!


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